GOP up in Harford

March 22, 2012|Editorial from The Aegis

Many consistent observations about politics are aptly illustrated by the trend in voter registration in favor of Republicans in recent years in Harford County.

A key one that's likely to result in the Grand Old Party continuing to make gains locally is that success begets success. For decades, voters in Harford County, regardless of registration numbers, have been trending increasingly in favor of Republican candidates in general elections. It began in the days when Harford County was overwhelmingly Democratic in registration, but favored Republican presidential candidates. In those days, however, state and local candidates who were registered Democrats continued to dominate in county and state government positions in Harford County.

The shift in favor of Republicans trickled down to state and local office in the early 1990s, even as Democrats continued to hold a substantial advantage in voter registration. These days, Democrats are essentially where Republicans were 30 years ago in state and local politics: lost balls in tall grass.

Which leads into another thing that holds true in state and local politics, that being people will switch to the party on the upswing to avoid being lost balls in tall grass. For generations, Maryland had a strange variant of the two-party system: Democrats vs. Democrats, or more appropriately, conservative, business-oriented Democrats and liberal, social issue-oriented Democrats. Maryland was decidedly part of the old Democratic Solid South dating to the post Civil War era. Regardless of political leaning, those seeking public office were more or less obliged to register as Democrats to have a shot at having any chance of being elected and having an impact while in office. Voters who wanted their votes to mean something were aware that elections were decided in the Democratic primaries, so a lot of folks who were of a Republican mind were apt to register as Democrats so as not to be left out of the part of the process wherein the decisions were being made.

These days in Harford County, a fair number of races are decided in the Republican primary, so there's increasing incentive for those of a Democratic mind to register as Republicans.

Over the past 50 years, suburban areas across the U.S. have, in general, though not exclusively, favored the Republican party, and more urbanized areas have, generally, though not exclusively, favored Democrats. This is borne out even within Harford County where the Democratic stronghold, such as it is, is on the eastern, more urbanized side of the county while Republicans are especially strong in the northern and western suburban and rural environs.

You're never as good as you look when you win and you're never as bad as you look when you lose. The reality is, while the Democrats and Republicans regard themselves as opposing teams, in general elections, two people are running for one office and individual strengths and weaknesses can outweigh party affiliation. Affiliation, by contrast, carries the day when two candidates are equally anonymous.

This observation tends to hold true in sports, though for different reasons.

Even as most people are fairly moderate in their views, the most fiery speakers and vibrant leaders make their marks by espousing views that are a good deal left or right of center. By definition, it's almost impossible to be a passionate moderate. This is something of a double-edged sword. Even as the activists on either side of the spectrum attract people, they are equally adept at driving folks away. In Harford County, for example, the situation today is one wherein people who were Republicans back in the days when Democrats were at center stage are sometimes regarded as too moderate or even RINOs, or Republicans In Name Only.

The most striking reality of the American political system is that the two parties are so focused on up-ending each other that when folks feel driven out of one party, they often find a place to feel welcome in the loyal opposition. This contrasts substantially with countries that have many political parties that are either regionally or issue oriented.

In the long run, it remains to be seen whether Republicans will continue to dominate in Harford County, though they're winning these days, so they look especially strong. The same was true of Democrats a generation ago, but now they're in second place in a two way race. Ultimately, it isn't really important which one is on top and which is in the role of the loyal opposition. What is important is that the weaker of the two is always vibrant enough to challenge what the one in charge is doing and offer a viable alternative.

The back and forth between the two, not the policies of one or the other, is what allows the system to work.

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